Race-based attacks and harmful stereotypes are putting Vermont’s Abenaki communities in jeopardy, and it needs to stop. This week is Abenaki Recognition and Heritage Week, yet international special-interest groups are threatening state-recognized Abenaki tribes with cultural erasure in an effort to position themselves for recognition and rights within the United States.
Race-based attacks and harmful stereotypes are putting Vermont’s Abenaki communities in jeopardy and it needs to stop. This week is Abenaki Recognition and Heritage Week, yet international special-interest groups are threatening state-recognized Abenaki tribes with cultural erasure in an effort to position themselves for recognition and rights within the United States.
Using their Canadian status as recognized First Nations, Odanak and Wôlinak in Quebec are using state and federally-funded universities and media organizations to promote their propaganda — threatening to rewrite 12,000 years of Native heritage in the Abenaki homelands now known as the State of Vermont.
Enrolled Citizen of the Nulhegan Band of the Coosuk Abenaki Nation
Juried Artist since 2013
Chief Don Stevens is an award-winning leader, businessman, writer, and lecturer. He has been featured in magazines, books, TV shows, and documentaries. He was appointed to the Vermont Commission on Native American Affairs by Governor Douglas in 2006 for two terms, where he served as Chair and led the fight to obtain legal recognition for the Abenaki People in Vermont. Chief Stevens was able to acquire tribal land for the Nulhegan Tribe which had been absent for over 200 years. A gifted storyteller, he speaks about issues of Native American Sovereignty, Racial Disparity, and Abenaki Identity.
He was appointed by the Attorney General to the “Racial Disparities in the Criminal and Juvenile Justice Systems Advisory Panel” and serves on the Lake Champlain Sea Grant Advisory Panel and Vermont State Police Fairness and Diversity Advisory Panel.
This highly regarded after-school initiative draws on the writings of acclaimed Native American author Larry Brendtro (Reclaiming Youth At-Risk) who, with colleagues, first introduced this holistic model. While we (Abenaki Nation of Missisquoi, St. Francis/Sokoki Band) believe in the tenets of belonging, generosity, independence, and mastery, these core values have been adapted to accommodate our own beliefs about children.
As we view children from an “at-promise” paradigm, conventional “at-risk” models are replaced by a strengths-based approach.
Through a model that utilizes our traditional dance and other customs, students learn the difference between tobacco as a sacred herb used for ceremonies verses the social convention of cigarette smoking. Ultimately, there is a profound sense that when a community creates a context in which youth can thrive, they will.
The Abenaki Circle of Courage Afterschool Program puts the concepts of belonging, mastery, generosity, and independence into practice.
Children master skills in Native dance and crafts, experience belonging through working together as youth leaders, practice independence in completing artistic projects, and exhibit generosity through community service.
Project Director, Brenda Gagne, is an Abenaki Community member. Brenda directs the “Circle of Courage” after-school cultural program for both Native and non-Native students in Swanton and Highgate, Vermont. She has been honored by the State of Vermont’s Department of Education for outstanding service.
Jeff Benay is the Director of Indian Education Programs for Franklin County and former long-time Chair of the Governor’s Advisory Commission on Native American Affairs. He has worked with Vermont’s Abenaki for nearly 30 years.
Brenda Gagne is the Coordinator of the Circle of Courage program.